Chapter 1 : Man on Boat (2017)

Sculpture / Performace

 

Size: Variable

 

Uzanbazar Ghat, Guwahati, Assam

 

Performance as a tool for opinionating through public action and participation.

 

Performed by Mr. Ramu Chowdhury

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The urban riverbanks of Guwahati are overflowing with temporary communities of non-native settlers, who come to the regional capital in search of a better life.

  

Living in tattered houses made of plastic sheets; these communities face the brunt of the river's brute force during annual floods and the ensuing catastrophe.

 

The Government remains evasive towards their existence, negating their visibility with beautification drives and infrastructure development along the riverbanks within the city.

 

A blue man on a blue boat stands in front of the people of the ever-flooding city, challenging his invisibility in a silent protest.

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Back in 2016, Mr. Ramu Chowdhury used to stay in an unauthorized makeshift settlement with his family of his wife and two daughters. His extended family and relatives were settled in Goalpara, while he worked as a fisherman and a daily wage worker in and around Guwahati.

Unable to buy or rent a house since they had moved into the big city, and he and his family, along with a small number of people sharing similar stories used to stay in ephemeral neighborhoods built up with makeshift plastic huts raised on bamboo poles, in small clearances along the Uzanbazar Ghat.

 

For years of living in such a manner, they had been perfectly invisible to the city dwellers, their lives conveniently overlooked by the inherent nature of a fast-paced city.

 

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In 2018, during the Brahmaputra Ghat beautification project facilitated by the Assam Govt., many of such temporary settlements were cleared along the riverbank following the state’s intention of creating parks and public spaces.

Playing around with the themes of invisibility and silence, we developed the aesthetics of the protest through mutual conversations. The initial amusement from him and his family and the following apprehensions regarding such a performance provided space for critical communication. This created the opportunity for the family to form their own understanding of such a process.

The preparatory actions provided for the shared breathing ground for all of us, where the conversations and exchange could build upon. This shared ground extended beyond his family to his friends and neighbors, whose participation provided greater sense to the context of the performance, and at the same time, added their voice to the narrative.

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Paint making for the performer involved experimenting with different shades of indigo and edible dye, mixed with corn-starch and cold cream as a medium for application.  

 

With the intention of directly engaging the posh neighborhood of Guwahati, the performance was executed on a busy riverbank in the early morning hours to activate the open social space and what could be called a non-art community.  

The process of painting during the performance in the public realm created a sense of collective experience for the onlookers, thus making way for the creation of a temporary social group. The audience was invited for involvement through posing for pictures, conversations, and exchange, and later the performance itself inspired many to join and help in moving the work around. 

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Special thanks to Grover Megam, Rejaul Arshad, Ankita Dhaka, Hrishikesh Chowdhury, and Sunit Hazarika for their assistance in realizing this action.